Jewish Pluralism Focus of Dr. Yehuda Kurtzer at Hillel International’s Staff Conference
A recent plenary talk at Hillel International’s annual staff conference focussed on considerations of pluralism in the Jewish community. Delivered by Dr. Yehuda Kurtzer, the president of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, on Tuesday at the Hillel International Global Assembly, the focus was not on denominations, however. Rather, Dr. Kurtzer spoke about even something more basic, beginning with this problematic that he described at the outset of his talk:
Something pretty significant has transitioned in our community, which is that the very nature of what it means to be a part of the Jewish people has shifted powerfully, publicly, and in incredibly messy ways. As a result, the urgency of Jewish pluralism today is not simply about transacting with one another or, once we agree on the shared assumptions of who belongs – who’s inside and who’s outside, but Jewish pluralism today is about navigating the messy conversation without any shared assumptions of what it means, at the core level, to be a Jew, to be a member of a Jewish community, or part of the Jewish people.
Dr. Kurtzer then described five different ways that Jews primarily identify Jewishly: as a matter of nationality, ancestry, beliefs, culture, or community. Of course, these ways are not mutually exclusive, but they can be separated out. In the course of his talk, he had members from the audience share how they primarily connect Jewishly, as a way of giving more of a sense of how these five ways exist in people. He also had the audience vote in real-time to show how they most connected with their Jewish identities, which provided some interesting insight of the audience.
In his concluding remarks, Dr. Kurtzer urged that the Jewish community needs to think of ways of thinking about the Jewish people that are up-to-date:
Ultimately, the educational agenda of new Jewish pluralism is going to have to be rooted in a comprehensive and radical empathy for all the transformative change that’s taking place all around us. A deep acknowledgment that this is who the Jewish people are becoming, mostly because of forces that are good, but almost entirely because of forces that are out of our control.
In closing, Dr. Kurtzer said, “We have to challenge ourselves to think totally differently about the new Jewish realities that are coming – not with fear, but with deep self-confidence.”
The entire talk may be viewed here.